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Hockey is a fast moving game played on an unyielding surface. That is a recipe for injury.

Inside CaspAaron2 Aaron Casp, M. D. Hockey has grabbed a foothold in the Deep South, spurred in part by the presence of the Birmingham Bulls , who play in the Southern Professional Hockey League. There are amateur leagues for children and adults, meaning more and more people are playing hockey, and that leads to more and more hockey-related injuries.

“Hockey is a fantastic sport from a young age all the way to adult recreational leagues, ” said Aaron Casp, Meters. D., a sports medicine physician in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and team physician for the Bulls. “However, the combination of ice and contact can lead to leg, arm, spine and head injuries. ”

Casp has suggestions for keeping safe while on the snow.

  • Protective equipment: Hockey is a game with lots of equipment, and for good reason. Proper protective equipment plus pads help keep a skater safe and help avoid injury, according to Casp. “Always wear a snug fitting, Hockey Equipment Certification Council certified helmet with face protection, always use a mouth-piece and make sure your pads and skates are in reasonable condition, ” he said.

  • Warm-up: “We often don’t like to admit it, but as we get older strains, tears, plus pretty much any injury can happen much more easily now, ” said Casp. He suggests getting into a good warm-up routine at a young age which can really pay dividends throughout a playing career. Make sure to take the ice with plenty of time to get warm, stretch, and have a little sweat going before starting live play. Studies show that a good dynamic warm up increases the ability for muscle and tendons to stretch and decreases injuries.

  • Skate in-control: It may seem obvious, but ice is slippery. Skating should be done at an appropriate speed for one’s stopping ability. Always skate towards the boards on an angle to dig the puck out; never charge directly at the planks in a perpendicular path. “This will make sure that any contact is not direct, but is more of a deflection. If you’re going to hit something, make sure to take the impact with an arm, a leg, or anything but your head, ” he said.

  • Checking: “Never check from behind or into the player’s back, ” said Casp. “It’s illegal, dangerous and just bad hockey. If you’re going to take a check, keep your head out of it. ” Casp recommends keeping skates parallel to the boards, knees bent and maintaining a low center of gravity. Keep skating through the check, and move away quickly. This will lessen the impact that is felt and will keep players ready for contact.
  • Heads-up, don’t duck: USA Hockey has a national campaign teaching safe collisions. Players in hockey often make contact, and end up hitting the boards. A natural reaction is for the player to duck their head before contact, which flexes the neck and places one’s head and neck in a very rigid position, making it vulnerable to injury. “It may feel unnatural, but seeing the planks with your head up as you make contact allows for the maximum flexibility of the spine, preventing injuries. So remember, if you’re going to hit the boards, ‘heads up, don’t duck’. ” 

Casp reminds players at any level to keep it fun. “Be a good sport, skate safely and enjoy this fantastic game. ”

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